Estefania Higuain, left back: Those first few weeks of school were hard. Moving to a new school is tough. Pretty much all of it. You don’t know anybody, you don’t know your way around. Where are my classes? Where’s the cafeteria? Everything’s just a little harder than it was at your old school. Plus, you’re a little lonely. You don’t have any friends.
And then there was life at home. Hugo’s health was very poor. He was seeing new doctors at this new hospital, they were trying new things, things he wasn’t used to. His body didn’t always have a good reaction and he’d have to spend a few nights at the hospital. It was tough on everyone. Hugo most of all.
To be honest, I really did wonder if the soccer team was just something I couldn’t do. Life was so busy, you know? New school, new people, new everything. When school let out, maybe I was going home or maybe I was going to the hospital to see Hugo. There was just so much... chaos? I don’t think that’s the right word. Not chaos. But something like that. Life was just too much. So, would I go out for the soccer team? I really wasn’t sure.
But like I told you, in the end, Hugo decided it. He said I had to. I had to go out for the team and then give him a report every day. He was very clear on that. Every day, he wanted a report.
I’m glad he made me join the team. It was good for me. Kind of the only normal thing in my life, I guess.
But was I excited about practices starting? Hard to say. It was mixed. Everything was mixed that year.
Carlos Orostieta, head coach: Oh yes, I was very excited for the first week of practice. Very excited. I knew how good the team would be. I knew the quality of players who were coming back. Roney, Forero, and Hayley Swanson? With that kind of talent, how could I not be excited?
I remember telling myself, Carlito, this year, you must win it all. It is your final year. You have so much talent on the team. You must win it all. You must!
That sort of pressure, even from within – especially from within – well, it is difficult. It can make the game a little less enjoyable. And it really is a game, you know. It should be fun. But with that sort of talent, you do feel the pressure to win.
So yes, to answer your question, I was glad when practice finally began. My last team. Would it be my greatest team? No way to say yet. But when you step out there on the practice field at the start of the year, it’s always nice. Very nice. Like magic. The smell of the grass, the sound of the balls being kicked back and forth, all of those players running around, looking to you, wondering what sort of coach you are, what sort of season this will be.
Ah, I miss it sometimes. I do. Yes, the pressure was high, but maybe that was part of the fun.
Kaitlyn Baker, central midfielder: Are you kidding? I couldn’t wait for practice to start. Those first couple weeks of school, I was going crazy waiting for it.
Starting at a new school is difficult. I mean, I didn’t have any big problems or anything, but still, it was tough. More annoying than tough, I guess. It’s just... I was a senior, right? And as a senior, you’re supposed to be top of the food chain and all that. But when you’re brand new and don’t know anyone, don’t have any friends, you’re sort of like a freshman. Those first couple weeks, I remember being very aware of how much easier life would have been if I’d stayed at my old school. But like I said, I was at East for the soccer program.
I’d gone and found Coach in his classroom, introduced myself. You know, just to let him know who I was. Let him know I was serious. I’d had a little contact with other players on the team, but not a huge amount. Not enough to develop relationships or anything. By the time that first practice rolled around, I was beyond pumped. Walking into that locker room first day, I was practically vibrating, I was so pumped up. I definitely hit the ground running.
Lisa Roney, center back: Oh yeah, I noticed Kaitlyn, right from the start. Even in the locker room beforehand, you couldn’t miss her. Super vocal. Introducing herself to everyone. Not acting at all like a new girl. “Alright, girls. This is our year.” That’s how she was talking. “Let’s get off to a good start today.” Stuff like that.
I was listening to it, thinking, Who is this crazy girl, coming in here like she owns the place?
Catalina was even worse. She was changing next to me and I remember her rolling her eyes at me. Just looking really annoyed by it. We hadn’t even made it out to the practice field yet, and already there were problems.
Catalina Forero, center back: Yeah, Kaitlyn put me right on edge. Instantly.
See, here’s the thing. We had an established team. We had seniors. We had leaders. Me and Hayley, one of us would be captain. Probably me, really. Hayley’s a little too quiet. But still, the two of us, we were gonna run that team. We were gonna set the tone. Set the culture.
Then suddenly this new chick shows up out of nowhere, acting like she’s in charge? Walking around the locker room, clapping her hands, introducing herself, giving pep talks? Are you kidding me? I friggin’ hated her, right from the start.
So there I was, wondering how to handle it. Lisa’s there, she’s always so chill. Hayley, too. Hayley’s a leader, sure, but she’s a quiet leader. She’s got a quiet strength.
But this new chick was so vocal, so energetic, and I was like, Okay, I gotta match this. I gotta bring my energy up, show the team who’s boss. So there I was, getting all pumped up and loud. Clapping my hands and whatnot.
The whole thing felt weird, you know? It felt like I was forcing it. Changing my style. Being somebody I wasn’t. And why? Because this stupid new girl I’ve never seen before thinks she’s something special? Why should I have to change for her? She should have to change for me.
So yeah, first day, first time walking out to the practice field, and I was already pissed off. Already sick of Kaitlyn.
Chamique Lennox, backup goalkeeper: I was so nervous that first practice. So nervous. I’m not sure I said two words the entire time. I mostly watched Hayley Swanson. I was kind of in awe of her. The whole school was, really. And now I was on the same team as her? Playing the same position? It was insane. I was terrified.
The second-string keeper was a girl named Ruthann Arquin. She was nice. I wasn’t afraid to talk to her. If we were gonna do keeper drills or something, I’d be off to the side, all scared and everything, watching Hayley, asking Ruthann what I was supposed to do. I was probably whispering to her, afraid Hayley would hear me. It’s crazy. Hayley was just so intimidating.
So yeah, I was quiet that first practice. That whole first week, I’m sure.
I noticed Lisa, though. Lisa Roney. She was so hot. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
I wasn’t out, back then. I knew I was gay, but I’d never said anything to anyone. I was still getting used to it myself, you know? But Lisa, she was out.
She was a junior. I knew about her, I’d seen her in the halls. She had this great hairdo. Short. Kind of a pixie cut, I guess, but bleached super super blond. Really hot.
So yeah, I spent a lot of that first practice checking her out. Watching her out the corner of my eye, trying to be all super-secret about it.
Lisa Roney, center back: Yeah, I noticed Chamique. She was cute as hell. Really shy, really awkward. She was a freshman, you know. Looked it, too. Skinny. All knees and elbows. But cute. Really cute. I saw her over there with Hayley, trying to be invisible. Trying to watch me without getting caught. It was cute.
But in truth, cute freshman girls eyeing me from the sideline was kind of the last thing on my mind that first week of practice. The main thing was Kaitlyn and Catalina. God almighty, those two.
Catalina Forero, center back: I’m not sure when we first blew up at each other. Was it first day? It might have been. She just drove me insane, you know? Clapping her hands, yelling all the time. “Here we go, girls! Here we go!” Stuff like that. Drove me friggin’ crazy.
Hayley didn’t like it much, either, but it affected her a little less, you know? She was in goal, not out in the field. She had a little bit of separation. And anyway, Hayley was just naturally more chill.
But me, I was right there in the middle of it. Coach had Kaitlyn playing central midfield, right in front of me and Lisa. So I couldn’t escape her, you know?
I’d always thought I was a pretty good leader. Always thought I was pretty vocal, keeping the back line organized, that sort of thing. But now Kaitlyn comes along and she won’t shut up. We’re running drills, she’s talking. We’re playing a scrimmage, she’s barking out orders. It was non-friggin’-stop.
I was a senior, I knew the team, I’d done my time. Now this new girl shows up and wants to take over? I was not cool with that. Not at all.
Kaitlyn Baker, central midfielder: What was I supposed to do? Catalina wasn’t vocal enough. She just wasn’t. The team needed direction. It needed a leader. There was a void, I filled it. Catalina didn’t like it? Fine. I wasn’t there to make friends. I was there to win.
Estefania Higuain, left back: Hugo loved the Kaitlyn/Catalina stories. Loved them.
I told you how he wanted daily reports. I’d come home and he’d be like, “Tell me everything.” That first day, after the very first practice, he was like, “Who are the players? How is the coach? What position did you play? What drills did you run?” He couldn’t get enough.
And, without a doubt, the number one thing he loved? Kaitlyn and Catalina wanting to kill each other.
When did they first blow up? I think it was in the locker room after that first practice. Catalina kind of kept her cool out on the practice field – kind of – but then in the locker room, she finally let Kaitlyn have it. Told her to shut up, probably. I can’t remember the exact fight, the exact words, but they fought. And trust me, that was only the first one, it certainly wasn’t the last. And Hugo, he ate it up. He loved it. I didn’t really root for either Kaitlyn or Catalina to win. I didn’t care who ended up being captain. But Hugo, he was definitely Team Kaitlyn. He loved the idea of this new girl coming in and taking over. Loved it.
Truth is, I may have played up the fights a little bit for him. His life was so bad those days. In pain from the cancer, sick from the treatments. My soccer stories were one of the only good things in his life, really. So when I saw how much he liked the Kaitlyn/Catalina drama, I may have played it up a little. Spent a little extra time describing it. Maybe added a little here and there. It was fun.
But, you know, it’s not like I was inventing it out of thin air. It was real. They didn’t like each other.
Carlos Orostieta, head coach: Oh, yes, my friend, it was real. There was real trouble between those two, no doubt. But that is part of coaching, isn’t it? It is not all x’s and o’s. It’s not all game plans and formations and all of that. A big part of coaching is managing personalities. Sometimes it seemed like that was the biggest part. That year, it certainly did.
I did what I could, of course. I spoke to the girls, tried to work things out. But in some ways, these are things players must work out themselves. Does the coach really choose the captain? Or does the captain choose herself?
So those first few weeks, sometimes I kept the peace, and sometimes I did not. Sometimes I stepped aside and let the girls work things out themselves. Because maybe that is when the real captain shows herself. Maybe that’s when we figure out who will lead the team.
Kaitlyn Baker, central midfielder: It took awhile. Catalina, man, she wasn’t going down without a fight. And good on her, right? Good on her. She should fight. That’s what a team needs. Fighters. So did I mind the fights? The tension? God, no. I wanted the tension. That’s how championships are won.
Catalina Forero, center back: Of course she liked it. She’s a fighter. That’s, like, the one-word description of Kaitlyn Baker. Fighter.
Me? I didn’t like it as much. Not at the time. I was talking with Hayley, talking with Lisa, and they were supportive. They were, like, “Keep working, man. Coach knows you. He knows what you bring to the team.”
I wanted that friggin’ arm band, you know? I wanted to be captain. And it’s almost like having Kaitlyn come in and push me like she did, that made me want it more. Before practice started, I’d just assumed I’d get the arm band. Like it was a given. Now, who knew? Maybe me. Maybe Kaitlyn. Hell, maybe Coach would just give it to Hayley, just to shut me and Kaitlyn up. I had no idea. I just knew it was important now. It was no longer just an assumed thing. If I was gonna be captain, I’d have to earn it.
Kind of made it more fun, in a way. More meaningful, at least.
Lisa Roney, center back: That first week of practice, I could tell Chamique wanted to talk to me, but was afraid to. I could see her checking me out, pretending she wasn’t checking me out, that sort of thing. I started talking to her a little. You know, just asking how she was doing, how the whole goalkeeper thing was working out. Safe stuff.
Chamique Lennox, backup goalkeeper:I couldn’t tell if she liked me or not. I mean, she was being friendly and all, but did that mean she liked me? Maybe she was just being friendly. Just being nice to this dumb freshman girl pretending she was a goalie.
I think it was after practice that first Friday, she was like, “Hey, me and some friends are getting coffee tomorrow. You wanna join us?”
God, I almost fainted, I was so excited. I was thinking, Omigod, coffee! With friends! Who are they? Gay friends? Does she know I’m gay? She can’t. How could she? What should I wear? What do people wear to coffeeshops? Should I try and look gay? What does that even mean? How do you look gay? It was terrifying and wonderful and I could barely sleep Friday night thinking about it.
Lisa Roney, center back: It was a bunch of my gay friends. Like, four or five of us. I was like, Oh, this’ll be a nice thing I can do for Chamique. Get her around some gay folks, let her see it’s not so scary. It’ll be good for her.
And it was. We were all just hanging out, drinking coffee and talking. Not about anything important. Just stuff. It was pretty chill.
Chamique was quiet at first, but then she started to relax and join the conversation and enjoy herself.
And it was weird... at a certain point, I was like, Wow, Chamique’s totally cool. I mean, I genuinely liked her. I was enjoying her company.
Afterwards, people were taking off and the whole thing was breaking up, and I asked Chamique what she had planned for the day and she was like, “Nothing. This. I guess I’ll go home.”
Somehow we both decided we didn’t really want to go home yet, so there was this movie theater there, one of those smaller theaters that show older movies, so we decided to go see a movie. And then after that we did something else and then something else and before you knew it, it was a real live date.
Crazy, right? Last thing I expected, falling for some little freshman girl. But there you are. Our first date.